Great Poetry

Here, I shall recommend a few extraordinary poems by Goethe, Hölderlin, Eichendorff, Storm, and Rilke, by Donne and Tennyson, Hugo and Valéry.

I shall also address why these authors whom I urge you to study and memorise are all long dead, European, and male.


Two German-language classics, Friedrich Hölderlin’s short and shattering lament Hälfte des Lebens (The Middle of Life) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s spellbinding chant Auf dem See (On the Lake) are on Project Gutenberg.

If you have limited knowledge of German, or indeed of poetry, Theodor Storm and Joseph von Eichendorff are good starting points, since their poetry is accessible – original but not enigmatic. The poems Mondnacht (Moon Night) by Eichendorff and Meeresstrand (Sea Shore) by Storm will reveal the ‘German soul’ to you – and touch your soul.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s verse, in turn, is idiosyncratic, at times more music than language, but all the more entrancing. Try Liebeslied (Love Song) for a romantic poem apt for a wedding!


Also have a look at Éternel Éclairs, a lovely French-language website, for Demain, dès l’aube by Victor Hugo and hundreds of poems and paintings by many artists.


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Christina Egan by Christina Egan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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